'The destination is second to the journey', they say. Maybe that's one of the reasons why bike packing has become so popular lately. Hear from ultracyclist and Veloine rider Jana what makes bike packing so special to her, and get her ultimate tips when planning a bike packing tour.
Written by Jana Kesenheimer
The hype surrounding the bikepacking trend is huge. I understand exactly why. Moreover I am not afraid to push this development even further. If you sit on a bike, you cannot drive a car at the same time; if you can find adventure on your doorsteps, you do not necessarily have to fly far and if you experience how landscapes change by bike, you learn to love our environment. Best of all, everyone can have a piece of this cake without it being used up. So do not be shy about sharing experiences! There are enough routes for everyone, all of which guarantee very personal experiences.
As soon as you jump on your bike without already knowing that the tour will end in a few hours at home, you will experience a hint of adventure. It is often unclear what the route has in store, you move through different weather, various areas and often do not know when and where the day ends. When exploring new paths, even in your own surroundings, there is always a sharpened awareness. These insecurities and the pleasant excitement lead to a healthy trust, which can also give more serenity in everyday life.
I once had a flat tire in the most unlikely place: It was freezing cold, it was getting dark, the lights were flickering before my eyes due to the hours of rain, my hands were shaking. Another time, in the scorching heat, I was chased away by wild strays. Sometimes the day never ends because the perfect place to sleep does present itself And yet I always come home: covered in a film of dirt and sweat, with bright eyes, a red face and exhausted legs. Is there anything more beautiful?
Of course, it is still important to think about the right equipment, the weather, the route and possible short cuts before every small and big adventure. So here is a brief summary of what to think about.
- What is the goal of your bike packing trip?
The goal of a cycling adventure can be very different. A new, unfamiliar region, for example, or the sea, the mountains, a visit to family and friends... The main thing is that you are looking forward to it! There are many tools for route planning, such as Komoot, Strava and Ride with GPS. Try what you like. Keep in mind how you can always lengthen or shorten a route, just in case.
But the “goal” does not just mean a waypoint, but also the mindset. Especially if you are riding with other people, it is worth talking about what you expect from the trip beforehand. Is the motto to push your limits as far as possible and cover a lot of ground? Or is it about exploring particularly beautiful paths? Culinary and cultural highlights should not be neglected? How much and where do you want to sleep? Beforehand, play through in your mind which “style” you would like to travel in, and also talk about it with potential company. If you are traveling alone, let someone know what you are planning to do and send him or her your planned route.
- Plan whatever you can plan
On a bike packing adventure, the unpredictability of many situations takes over. Some paths are actually less rideable than expected. The weather is changing rapidly. All accommodations are closed. Anyway - be prepared. Before you start, look at different weather models. And: are there sections of the route where there may be no food to buy? Where is the best place to find accommodation or sleep outside undisturbed? Think, for example, of the midday siesta in southern countries. Hunger and thirst usually put you in the worst mood, even on the best trip.
- Pack your bags and take with you...
Depending on how you answered the first two points for yourself, you now plan your equipment. There is no “one fits all” setup. Every bike packing trip requires different equipment and every rider is different. Some people get cold easily, others cannot sleep without a pillow, still others need very specific tools. That's why it is important to figure out your own packing list. Try out what works for you personally. If it is your first adventure on a bike, it is better to take too much with you than too little - but also keep in mind that some things can also be bought (or sent home) on the way. Although there is no universal packing list, here is a summary of the most important things:
Bike packing clothing
- Cycling shorts (if you stay longer than 3 days, you may want to take a second pair of cycling shorts with you)
- Jersey (preferably one that doesn't stink quickly and dries quickly)
- Base layer
- Cycling socks (possibly a pair of comfy socks for the night)
- Rain jacket
- Down jacket or vest
- Arm warmers and leg warmers (knee warmers)
- If required: cycling gloves with gel pad, long gloves
- Tube scarf
- Pants and t-shirt for sleeping / off-bike clothing (optional: shoes)
- Toothbrush and toothpaste (as small as possible)
- Wet wipes (ideally compostable without microplastics)
- Sun screen
- Optional: soap, lip balm, contact lenses & liquid, medication, ...
First aid (at a minimum)
- Emergency painkillers
- Rescue blanket
- Bandages (e.g. a gauze compress and sterile cloth)
If you want to sleep outside
- Sleeping bag adapted to the expected temperatures at night
- Sleeping mat (also pay attention to possible insulation here)
- Bivouac sack (protects against wind and moisture)
- Beanie that you can pull over your eyes if necessary (gives warmth, darkness, keeps mosquitoes from biting your face)
- Optional: tarp, tent, tent foil, pillow (inflatable), ...
- Air pump
- Tire levers
- At least one spare tube, even if you ride tubeless
- Tubeless or patch kit
- Mini tool
- Possibly also a small pair of pliers, cable ties, chain lock, valve key, a piece of chain...
- Be sure beforehand that you can really get by with all the tools you have with you. Practice at home if you are not sure.
- Sunglasses (+ replacement lenses for the night?)
- Cycling shoes (SPD pedals make walking easier)
- Enough snacks and water
- Power bank
- Lights (+ spare lights)
Which bike packing bags you choose depends entirely on what you prefer. Your frame size can be a limiting factor. Check with others how what they use and see what works for you. In all cases, you should have at least one bag that you can access quickly, for example to eat something while riding. It makes sense to pack all your sleeping equipment together, pack clothes that you want to get hold of on the go (e.g. rain jacket) within easy reach and tell your company where your first aid kit is. This way, you can help yourself quickly in an emergency. You'll have to find out everything else yourself. The universal bike packing guide will therefore never exist.
If you still have doubts: just do it. I learned the most about cycling by simply doing it. The beauty of cycling is that you can usually just stop whenever you want (it's not bungee jumping). There are trains and more helpful people than you might think. Imagine what is the worst that could happen and how you could handle this failure. And then, be fearless, get on your bike and ride.